Drug Overdose Is a National Crisis: It's Time to Act

Unfolding before our eyes is a national public health crisis: fatal drug overdose has increased more than six-fold in the past three decades. Today, more Americans are dying of drug overdoses than traffic accidents, primarily from heroin and prescription pills like oxycodone and Vicodin. Every single day, 120 people die in the U.S. of a drug overdose.

My son died at the age of 25 after battling the disease of addiction for nearly a decade. Today, there are more than 22 million Americans who are fighting drug addiction and millions more who are affected by seeing this disease tear down a loved one.

The debilitating disease of addiction deserves attention from the highest levels of our government -- as well as action. And to its credit, the Obama Administration has taken note.

Over the past few weeks, several developments have indicated profound support from President Obama's administration to tackle the escalating epidemic of drug overdose deaths in the U.S. While the increased federal attention is new, the problem of drug overdose deaths -- especially from heroin and prescription pills -- is no recent phenomena. It has been silently but swiftly escalating in communities across the United States.

Last week, the Senate confirmed Michael Botticelli as Director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy. This demonstrates the Senate's realization that our nation needs a full-time, fully functioning drug czar. I have tremendous respect for Director Botticelli and I very much look forward to working with him.

And the week prior, President Obama released his Fiscal Year 2016 Budget. In it, President Obama's budget highlighted opioid abuse, a category of drugs that includes heroin and prescription pills, as the major drug policy issue in focus for the Fiscal Year 2016 Budget.

Here are some of the highlights:

• More than $130 million in new investments to address the growing opioid overdose epidemic.

• Increased Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) budget allocation toward overdose prevention, enabling the current program to expand to all 50 states with a focus on heroin and opioid overdose prevention.

• Enhanced Prescription Drug Monitoring Programs across the nation.

• More than $10 million to fund a new federal grant program to purchase naloxone and equip and train first responders to administer this overdose-reversing medication.

• Increased funding to medical treatments for addiction within the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration's (SAMHSA) Programs of Regional and National Significance.

The administration also announced that the federal government would be cracking down on drug courts that limit the options available to addicts, striking a more treatment-focused balance.

These developments are welcomed with open arms, but our work is far from done.

As Director Botticelli wrote in a recent blog post, "What is seen as someone else's problem -- someone else's disease -- takes on a new dimension when people speak up about it." That's exactly what we're doing at Shatterproof. Shatterproof is the first national non-profit organization whose mission is to protect our children from addiction to alcohol or other drugs and end the stigma and suffering of those affected by this disease.

The science is indisputable. Drug abuse changes the chemical make-up of one's brain, especially when drug use is introduced in adolescence. Addiction is a primary, chronic disease of brain reward, motivation, memory and related circuitry. It's encouraging to see President Obama and ONDCP ramping up efforts to address this epidemic through commonsense policy that focuses on treatment and rehabilitation.

Bu...while all signs point to future progress on this issue, we cannot let a glimmer of hope nudge us into complacency. It's time to act: act to approve President Obama's budget request, act to protect our children and act to eliminate the stigma surrounding the disease of addiction in America.

Need help with substance abuse or mental health issues? In the U.S., call 800-662-HELP (4357) for the SAMHSA National Helpline.